Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Noir City X

The 2012 Noir City Film Festival ran from January 20 to 29 at the Castro Theater. 2012 is the 10th year of Noir City so this year's festival was referred to as Noir City X. They had a snazzy anniversary logo in which the "y" in "City" merges into the "X." I guess the festival is like the Super Bowl - big enough that it merits Roman numerals. Certainly the crowds were gargantuan in size. The evening screenings were packed and many of the matinees filled up the main auditorium (I think the balcony was closed for the matinees). It wouldn't surprise me if they had a total attendance of over 15,000 for the 10 day festival.

The 23 films I saw were:

Dark Passage starring Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall; with Agnes Moorehead; directed by Delmer Daves; (1947)
The House on Telegraph Hill starring Valentina Cortese & Richard Basehart; directed by Robert Wise; (1951)
Okay, America starring Lew Ayres & Maureen O'Sullivan; directed by Tay Garnett; (1932)
Afraid to Talk starring Eric Linden; directed by Edward L. Cahn; (1932)
The Killers starring Lee Marvin & Angie Dickinson; with Ronald Reagan, John Cassavetes & Clu Gulager; directed by Don Siegel; (1964)
Point Blank starring Lee Marvin & Angie Dickinson; with John Vernon, Carroll O'Connor, Keenan Wynn & Lloyd Bochner; directed by John Boorman; (1967)
Laura starring Gene Tierney & Dana Andrews; with Clifton Webb & Vincent Price; directed by Otto Preminger; (1944)
Bedelia starring Margaret Lockwood, Ian Hunter & Barry K. Barnes; directed by Lance Comfort; (1946)
Gilda starring Rita Hayworth & Glenn Ford; with George Macready; directed by Charles Vidor; (1946)
The Money Trap starring Glenn Ford & Elke Sommer; with Rita Hayworth, Ricardo Montalban & Joseph Cotten; directed by Burt Kennedy; (1965)
Unfaithfully Yours starring Rex Harrison & Linda Darnell; directed by Preston Sturges; (1948)
The Good Humor Man starring Jack Carson; with Lola Albright, Jean Wallace & George Reeves; directed by Lloyd Bacon; (1950)
Naked Alibi starring Sterling Hayden & Gloria Grahame; with Gene Barry; directed by Jerry Hopper; (1954)
Pickup starring Hugo Haas, Beverly Michaels & Allan Nixon; directed by Hugo Haas; (1951)
Thieves' Highway starring Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese & Lee J. Cobb; directed by Jules Dassin; (1949)
The Breaking Point starring John Garfield & Patricia Neal; with Phyllis Thaxter; directed by Michael Curtiz; (1950)
Three Strangers starring Geraldine Fitzgerald, Sydney Greenstreet & Peter Lorre; directed by Jean Negulesco; (1946)
The Great Gatsby starring Alan Ladd & Betty Field; with Ruth Hussey, Barry Sullivan & Macdonald Carey; directed by Elliott Nugent; (1949)
Roadhouse Nights starring Helen Morgan & Charles Ruggles; directed by Hobert Henley; (1930)
The Maltese Falcon starring Ricardo Cortez & Bebe Daniels; directed by Roy Del Ruth; (1931)
City Streets starring Gary Coooper & Sylvia Sidney; with Paul Lukas & Guy Kibbee; directed by Rouben Mamoulian; (1932)
Mr. Dynamite starring Edmund Lowe & Jean Dixon; directed by Alan Crosland; (1935)
The Glass Key starring Alan Ladd & Veronica Lake; with Brian Donlevy, Bonita Granville & William Bendix; directed by Stuart Heisler; (1942)

I only missed three screenings - House of Bamboo (which I saw at the PFA in 2010), Underworld USA and The Maltese Falcon (which I have seen several times although not on the big screen). House of Bamboo and Underworld USA were part of a Sam Fuller double feature which I regret missing. The Maltese Falcon was the final film of the festival and capped a six film Dashiell Hammett marathon on that last day. Having caught 5/6 of the Hammett marathon, I was too exhausted to stick around.

I actually had the opportunity to see Underworld USA but passed. I had one too many Sidecars at Sauce that evening. I occasionally do things other than go to the movies. I feel like admitting inebriation is more acceptable than admitting going to the movie theater every evening. I caught a ride home. As we were driving, I was tempted to ask the driver to drop me off at the Castro Theater but my swooning head and likely snickering comments made me reconsider. Sauce has a Guinness Stout Malt on the dessert menu which put me over the top...


Let's get a few of the miscues out of the way first. January 24 was billed as "A Night of Comedy Noir." The two films were Unfaithfully Yours and The Good Humor Man.

Unfaithfully Yours, starring Rex Harrison and written/directed by Preston Sturges, was the better film. It reminded me of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Danny Kaye. In Unfaithfully Yours, Rex Harrison portrays a symphony conductor who suspects his wife of having an affair and fantasizes about how he will exact revenge. He fantasizes while conducting a symphony and his heightened emotions produce the most inspired work of his career. Unfaithfully Yours was a serviceable comedy. I wonder if I would like Walter Mitty now; it's been 30 years or more since I saw it. Anyway, I had a hard time seeing elements of noir in Unfaithfully Yours. Ultimately, I didn't think it was noir and its comedy was not completely to my taste.

However, Unfaithfully Yours was a masterpiece compared to The Good Humor Man. The Jack Carson comedy was slapstick at its worst (or best, depending on your tastes). The audience seemed to lick it up. The Good Humor Man can be described as a bad Bob Hope film crossed with a bad Abbott and Costello film. I found the film insufferable. It limped along for the first two thirds but a chase scene closed out the film. The scene was epically horrendous and seemed to last half an hour. Carson's character and his girlfriend were chased into a school by the bad guys but some kids come to their rescue by throwing balls, musical instruments, shop class tools and ultimately pies at them. I don't know what is about the pie in the face routine but for me, it gets old pretty quick.

Unfaithfully Yours and The Good Humor Man made me wish I had gotten sauced at Sauce that evening instead of Sam Fuller night.


There were six films from the 1930s in this year's festival. I wouldn't consider those films "miscues" but between the rapid fire dialog, early sound recording and pre-WWII sensibilities, I can't rightly call these film noir even though many of them were based on Dashiell Hammett's works.

The definition of film noir is debatable but I always believed that post-war weariness and trauma were integral parts of the film noir protagonist and/or contemporary audiences. Several of the 1930s vintage films were quite good but didn't feel like film noir to me.


As it happens, my favorite film of the festival was a 1930s film - City Streets based on a Hammett's story. Starring a youthful Gary Cooper and effective Sylvia Sidney as a young couple caught up with the mob, City Streets remind me of one of those cautionary tales put out by Warner Brothers during the period. Cooper plays a carny sharpshooter who is duped into joining the gang to help his girlfriend (Sidney) who refuses to testify. When she gets out of the joint, she is dismayed to learn that Cooper (simply known as The Kid) has become a big shot in the mob; he found better uses for his gun skills. As they try to navigate their way to happiness, the couple has to contend with rival gangsters and gun molls as well as Cooper's embrace of the lifestyle which Sidney is trying to distance herself from.

Strong performances by the lead actors and pre-Code sensibilities elevated City Streets to top of my list of 2012 Noir City films.

I was also entertained by Bedelia, a British vehicle for Margaret Lockwood as a black widow trying to prey on her next soon-to-be-deceased husband. Her efforts are foiled by an insurance investigator posing as an artist who insinuates himself into the title character's life. Full of suspense and Lockwood's bravura performance, Bedelia stood out for me.

Angie Dickinson was in the house for a double feature - The Killers and Point Blank. Both films were very gritty films that were immeasurably buoyed by Lee Marvin's performances. Taciturn, merciless and single-minded in both films, Marvin was a true movie star and made for these types of roles. Dickinson's roles were most definitely secondary (even tertiary) to the plots but she made the most of her screen time. The Killers and Point Blank were among my favorites as well.

Gilda is a classic and I'd seen it before. I'm still not sure about some of the plot specifics but the film is a showcase of Rita Hayworth in every sense. When not looking sexy or singing torch songs ("Put the Blame on Mame" is a great song), Hayworth banters with Glenn Ford to great effect.

More surprising was how much I enjoyed The Money Trap. Made 20 years after Gilda, Ford plays a straight arrow cop who is induced into stealing mob money because of money problems at home. Home is where his younger, sexy, younger wife (Elke Sommer) throws parties every night. Egged on by his partner (Ricardo Montalban, in a great performance), Ford plans out the caper but he unexpectedly encounters his high school sweetheart - a ravaged looking Rita Hayworth. Hayworth was an alcoholic and perhaps suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease but it was truly depressing to see her appearance in The Money Trap. The film exploits her condition to full effect as she plays a washed up alcoholic in the film. This give the film a tragic feel which would not likely have been achieved with another actress in Hayworth's role. It puts a regretful hue on everything Ford's character does. It improves the film but I felt like I was exploiting Hayworth just by watching her at this stage of her life.


The Breaking Point which was based on Hemingway's To Have and Have Not and The Great Gatsby had the benefit of great source material. I read both novels in high school and recall being greatly impressed by them. I re-read both novels in my twenties and was relieved that I still thought highly of them as that is not case with all the books I re-read.

However, neither film really captured the full greatness of their respective source novels. That's a shame because both films were "near misses." John Garfield, Patricia Neal, Alan Ladd & Betty Field gave strong lead performances in the two films. Certainly, I thought more highly of these films than their well known cousins - To Have and Have Not with Bogie and Bacall and directed by Howard Hawks and the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby with Redford and Mia Farrow.

I was particularly impressed by Neal's performance which captured her sexiness and intelligence better than anything else I've seen her in.


Pickup also entertained me. Hugo Haas is tremendous as a man who fakes deafness to collect his pension early only to find out his wife (Beverly Michaels in a great role) not only doesn't love him but also want her boyfriend to kill him. The scenes where Michaels talks openly with her boyfriend about her disgust with her husband while he is within earshot but feigning deafness were incredible.

Afraid to Talk also stood out as one of the most cynical films of the festival. A bellhop witnesses the murder of a mob boss. Crooked politicians and the mob conspire to frame him for the murder. Another pre-Code film, Afraid to Talk was very dark and intense; it surprised me by the way its plot forced the everyman protagonist to suffer.

Naked Alibi and Thieves' Highway were potboilers helped by strong performances by Sterling Hayden and Richard Conte in the lead roles, respectively. Gloria Grahame, who is great in everything I've seen her in, added her screen appeal to Naked Alibi as did Gene Barry as the villain.

I'm fairly certain that the Coen Brother's Miller's Crossing (1990) is based on The Glass Key, either the film or Hammett's novel. Albert Finney played the Brian Donlevy role and Gabriel Byrne in the Alan Ladd role. Miller's Crossing is one of my favorite films of all time so once I picked up on the similarities, there was no way I could The Glass Key in anyway except in comparison to Miller's Crossing. The Glass Key held its own but ultimately couldn't displace Miller's Crossing in my estimation. That's unfair to The Glass Key but I can only watch watch a film from the perspective of my past experiences.

All the other films were a step below the ones mentioned above.

I'd like to write more but I'm pressed for time...too busy watching films to make time to write about them.

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